Transgender Profiles in Jewish Daily Forward
In the debut of a new series, "Transgender and Jewish," the Jewish Daily Forward profiles several transgender Jews.
Forward staff members, Naomi Zeveloff and Josh Nathan-Kazis, discuss the new series in a video on Vimeo. The introductory article, "First Generation of Transgender Rabbis Claims Place at Bimah," is also available online. We can look forward to more content to come.
In this first installment, this pioneering period is acknowledged with profiles of the first two transgender rabbis ordained (Elliot Kukla and Reuben Zellman in the Reform movement), as well as Emily Aviva Kapor who was ordained prior to her transition.
“I don’t think it was an accident that I found myself coming out as trans at the same time that I found myself becoming ordained,” said Rabbi Elliot Kukla, the first out transgender rabbi to be ordained in 2006 at HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus. “There is a certain identity transition in becoming a rabbi that, for me, surfaced feelings of, ‘Who am I in the deepest sense, and how do people see me?’”
Zellman says that many synagogues have made enormous strides in welcoming transgender congregants. But he worries that certain gestures — a yearly Pride Shabbat or the use of the slogan “We Welcome All” — create the appearance of hospitality without real attitudinal change on the part of rabbis and laity.
The fact that she’s the only out transgender female rabbi doesn’t surprise 28-year-old Emily Aviva Kapor. It’s a reflection of sexism in the broader society, she said, paired with the fact that the Jewish feminist movement largely has overlooked trans women. “If I want to have an affirmative Judaism for all women, including trans women,” she said, “I have to make it myself.”
On day two, we met three rabbinic students. The second introductory article "New Generation of Transgender Rabbis Ties Jewish Practice and Gender Change Number of Ordained Rabbis Will Soon Double From 3 to 6" is online now.
Moser hopes to become a pulpit rabbi, but she concedes that some congregations for which she would have been a perfect fit as a man might have a difficult time accepting her today. Still, she said, “it is our obligation to be out there, front and center, as role models for other trans people and particularly trans women in the Jewish community.”
Lieberman looks forward to the day when the Jewish community reaches what he calls the “2.0 version of transgender inclusion,” when trans people are treated like everyone else. “It’s a sign that we’ve made progress when we no longer say, ‘Trans people are welcome in my community,’ but instead say, ‘Of course you are welcome in my community; you are welcome to become rabbis, and you are going to do the best you can, just like everyone else does.’”
The experience showed him the “connection between gender liberation and Palestinian liberation”: Both entail “healing and self-determination.” But seeing the Israel Defense Forces’ treatment of Palestinians shook his faith. “I decided I could turn away from Judaism or turn toward Judaism and see if it could be a source of healing and wholeness and lived path,” he said.